When President Donald Trump meets with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un—assuming the on-again, off-again summit proceeds as scheduled—a broad-based group of faith leaders and human rights activists wants religious freedom included on the agenda.
“For decades, North Korea has been, in effect, a national torture chamber. There is nowhere on earth more dangerous for dissenters of conscience, especially those who believe in God,” said a May 17 letter to Trump from the Religious Freedom Institute, signed by more than 50 Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim religious leaders and various foreign policy experts and human rights activists.
The letter applauded the goal to denuclearize North Korea as “an outcome that would benefit all of humanity,” but it also urged the president to make human rights and religious freedom part of the summit discussions.
“We applaud and support your efforts to secure the release of American citizens,” the letter states. “We also implore you to recognize that there are tens of thousands of other men, women and even children—most of them North Korean citizens and many of them Christians—being brutalized by Kim and his regime.”
The letter asks Trump to include in any agreement:
- “As a good-will gesture, the immediate release of substantial numbers of prisoners of conscience.”
- “Within one month of any agreement, access to all prisons by the International Red Cross and the members of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry.”
- “The setting of quotas for voluntary emigration of released prisoners and their families, and for other applicants, to be administered and overseen by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.”
- “Agreement that the U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea may visit North Korea within three months of the agreement and have free access to any part of the country.”
Faith leaders who signed the letter include David Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University; Ron Sider, president emeritus of Evangelicals for Social Action; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters; Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern; William Lori, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore; and David Novak, president of the Union for Traditional Judaism.
On Pentecost Sunday, May 20, Elijah Brown, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, posted a video from the DMZ between North and South Korea, urging Baptists to pray for both nations.
In a June 1 blog post, Brown quoted the admonition of a North Korean-born woman to pray for frightened and imprisoned Christians in her native country.
“In North Korea, there are many underground Christians,” Mrs. Kim said, as recounted in Brown’s article. “They have learned to sing songs like ‘Amazing Grace’ very quietly in a whisper. But they want to sing loudly.
“Pray that those who are in prison will be released. In Luke 4, Jesus says, using Isaiah 61, the Spirit of the Lord is on me to preach the Good News to the poor, to release the prisoners and to heal the sick. This is exactly what needs to happen in North Korea. We are called to look after the widow and the orphan. Who will be the neighbor to the one who has been captured?”
Brown urged Baptists globally to join in prayer for North Korea.
“Today there is a remarkable opportunity to pursue just peace and lasting reconciliation within the Korean peninsula,” he wrote. “I urge all leaders and call upon each one of us to do the same, to build upon this moment before it passes. For in the end, as an interconnected global world, we must each respond to the question poised by Mrs. Kim. Will we be a good neighbor?”